Charles Kennedy sent an e-mail to party members today in which he complained that "[in] recent days No2AV have published a series of ads in local papers that can be described as distasteful at best, shocking and outrageous at worst."
He's right. No2AV are becoming more desperate and their tactics are reflecting this. Never having expected that a string of opinion polls would show support for the "no" camp steadily falling, No2AV has indulged in the kind of dishonesty more associated with Jeffrey Archer than a respectable campaign group.
It was excruciating enough that Margaret Beckett (surely a strange choice to front a supposedly forward-looking campaign) argued against electoral reform on the basis that "people aren't interested". To which it could be pointed out that it's patently absurd to be encouraging people who aren't interested in voting to go out and vote against something they care nothing about. Or, more pertinently, that perhaps the reason some people seem turned off by even the mention of the electoral system is because they've been so effectively disenfranchised by the status quo.
But No2AV have moved beyond that particular old chestnut. To quote from Mr Kennedy: "The premise behind the ads is that the country can't afford the alternative voting system. That by saying Yes to AV, voters will be taking £250 million away from sick babies in need of care, or soldiers in need of armour."
If that's the quality of the "no" campaign's arguments then I'm pretty confident of a majority "yes" vote come May. This kind of trick shows the complete lack of integrity of No2AV, which seems to feel that the scaremongering tactics and misinformation the electorate more usually associated with the BNP and UKIP are perfectly acceptable to use in order to destroy the opportunity for electoral reform. Using this kind of emotive picture is both irresponsible and fraudulent.
No2AV seems determined to claim that the cost of introducing AV would be significant. Even if it was, that in itself is hardly a reason to disregard the arguments for fairer votes and increased democratic accountability. But the No2AV campaign's claims are themselves based on false assumptions - such as the AV system requiring the purchase of expensive digital counting machines. It's absolute rubbish of course, as Channel 4's Fact Check Blog confirms.
Then No2AV want to unhelpfully suggest that electoral reform shouldn't be a political priority because there are more pressing concerns (such as dying babies and a lack of protective clothing for the military). This again is disingenuous. Why No2AV are so keen to move the debate away from the central issue about the future of politics I'm not so sure, but the country deserves better. The respective campaigns should be engaging in a constructive discussion about the merits (and otherwise) of changing the voting system.
Look guys, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Is there any chance of informed discussion on the...well, you know..the issue? Or is more cynical, dishonest, misleading and issue-evading advertising what we are to expect?
Charles Kennedy is calling for the Advertising Standards Agency to step in, "so that we can get on with the debate the country deserves". Caron is not so sure, because she has little faith in the ASA. Personally, I think involving the ASA might be counter-productive and the Yes to Fair Votes campaign is better taking out its positive message than indulging in an unpleasant scrap over this. Mark Pack's tactic of writing an informed letter to national newspapers might have more of an effect when it comes to educating the public. But Mr Kennedy wants sympathetic individuals to sign his open letter asking for action - if you agree, you can sign it by clicking here.
On a more constructive front, I was pleased to read today that Lib Dem president and Westmorland & Lonsdale MP Tim Farron and the Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness have both expressed support for voting reform and will hopefully be working jointly to ensure the maximum possible "Yes" vote across South Cumbria. Perhaps if more politicians can put aside party allegiances and tribal differences to campaign for a fairer democratic system we might actually get the overdue reform the country needs.